Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    Middle Eastern Madness

    I've made it clear that I'm no fan of our current excursions in the Middle East. And I can certainly understand the resentment that they must have for U.S. involvement in their affairs. But sometimes I really wonder if these people are firing on all cylinders. Take this article for example:

    A two-metre shark has been caught in a river in southern Iraq more than 200 km (160 miles) from the sea.

    Karim Hasan Thamir said he was fishing with his sons last week when they spotted a large fish thrashing about in his net. "I recognised the fish as a shark because I have seen one on a television programme," he told Reuters.

    Anywhere else, this would be held up as an interesting oddity, and nothing more. But this is Iraq, so the nutcases have to come out of the woodwork:

    Locals blamed the U.S. military for the shark's presence.

    Tahseen Ali, a teacher, said there was a "75 percent chance" Americans had put the shark in the water.

    "This is very frightening for us. Our children always swim in the river and I believe that there are more sharks. I believe that America is behind this matter," said fisherman Hatim Karim.


    Granted, the USA has its share of conspiracy theorists on both the left and the right. But sharks? In canals? What possible not-crazy-sounding purpose could that possibly serve?

    One of the things that has bugged me most about the middle east as I read quotes and interviews of the people there (and some Muslims here) is how pervasive the US conspiracy theory seems to be in that culture. Every minor thing, no matter how inconsequential, is America's fault... not because we've made some mistakes or had some unintended consequences of something, mind you. No, these things are conspiracies coordinated at the highest levels of the American government.


    In canals.

    And they don't even have frickin' laser beams on their heads.

    Posted by Tom, 10/30/2007 6:26:47 PM (Permalink). 7 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    Linkin Park

    This band kind of snuck up on me. I can't explain why I like them, I just do. Perhaps it's the quasi-Christian themes that run through the lyrics of several songs... themes of regret, loss, redemption, mercy, and forgiveness. I do know I love their dual-vocalist approach, on display in this video, which is one of my favorites:

    Also check out this one and this one. Oh, and definitely this one.

    The videos all seem to have a fair amount of visual social commentary (though the one embedded above is rather more abstract), but the song lyrics are very personal. This brings to my mind Gandhi's idea of "being the change"... instead of trying to change the world, try changing yourself. And that of course brings me full circle back to the "non-Christian Christian music" thing, which has been one of my secret pleasures for a while now. It's not that overtly Christian bands are bad... I'm a big fan of Third Day, for example. But very few of them rock this hard.

    Posted by Tom, 10/29/2007 7:17:35 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, October 28, 2007

    Father Figures

    I don't remember my biological father. I wouldn't recognize him, though I might be able to guess at who he was if he were in a police line-up. The only things I know about him were told to me by third parties. Here is the sum of all my knowledge:

    His name is Fred. He was apparently a very angry person. I've been told that he beat me with a belt when I was very little, perhaps a year old, because I spilled some food on the floor. It's unclear whether it was the same incident or a different one, but he also shook my brother violently at some point when the latter was an infant. He was in the military (Army?) and served in Vietnam, bringing home a couple of minor decorations -- I think one is a bronze star. Perhaps this is a source of his anger, but I don't know for sure.

    At some point, a rattlesnake was found under our porch, and it seems to me that the story is that Fred went in and killed it. But maybe it was a neighbor. My mind waffles on this point.

    I don't know the circumstances surrounding the dissolution of his relationship with my mother. Every time I try to think of what the situation was, all I can remember is the words "he left".

    Shortly after my mother met her current husband, but I think before she married him, we visited Fred in Georgia (we were living in Ohio at the time), and my brother and I got to go fishing with him. I remember fishing, and that my brother almost caught a big channel catfish, but there's a blank space in my memory where Fred must have been sitting. This was the last time I ever saw him. I think I was about 5 years old.

    When she did finally marry the guy I now refer to as "Dad", I remember wanting so bad to have his last name I used to beg them to get my name changed. I remember it was several long months while the courts tried to track Fred down to see if he had any objection to the adoption. I remember telling everyone at school that they should call me by my new name, even long before I was legally allowed to do so. I remember praying that Fred wouldn't stand in the way of the change.

    Much later, when we were teenagers, my brother apparently saw a picture of Fred, and told me I look like him. At the time I was developing some anger management problems of my own, and the dual knowledge of looking like him and being on the road to acting like him haunted me for many years. As I grew into an adult, I wondered if I was doomed to be him. I wondered if my mother thought of him every time she looked at me, and if it therefore hurt her to look at me. I felt a sort of frustrated rage towards him, but didn't really know why.

    Sometime later still, I think in my late 20's, I was told by a cousin that he was basically a vagrant veteran, and that he occasionally talked about "his boys", meaning my brother and I.

    I hadn't thought about him in several years, until my mother called tonight and said he's been hit by a truck and is in the hospital in really bad shape. She said she was just passing along the information, that Dad was OK with us hearing the information, and OK with whatever we decided to do with it.

    And that's the problem. I have no idea what to do with it.

    A man I haven't seen or heard from in 30 years is banged up, very likely dying, and I don't know what I'm supposed to feel. There's a part of me that's reacting as though I've been told about a stranger being in a car accident. That part says "yeah, that's tragic. I hope he goes easy, and doesn't suffer overmuch."

    There's a part that is utterly grief-stricken, but that part is behind some kind of invisible wall in my mind. I can see it, almost touch it, but I can't really feel it. I don't even know if it would be appropriate for me to try. I don't even know what it's upset about, beyond the vague acknowledgement that someone I don't know may be about to die.

    There's also a part of me that wants to reach out to this man Fred, somehow, across the miles, and tell him that I forgive him. I don't even know if he would know what I was talking about. I don't even know if he would know I was talking... I got the impression that he's unconscious and not really expected to wake up. I don't mind telling him, but I'm terrified of the thought that he might survive and want a relationship as a result. That sounds really terrible, but it's the truth. I'd hate to hurt Dad with something like that, and I wouldn't do it without telling him, and that's just too much to think about.

    I'm calmest when I maintain the perspective that Fred is a stranger that I don't have to care about beyond the care I try to have for any fellow human being. Does that make me unforgiving? Or am I just accepting the way things are? When I look at it this way, am I making a rational choice to protect myself, or a selfish one?

    What a mess.

    Posted by Tom, 10/28/2007 6:20:15 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Into the Wild

    Saw this movie over the weekend, and was going to write a long, rambling post about it, but everything I wanted to say can be found here and here. My basic read of the situation is summed up in the Wikipedia article's closing paragraphs:

    Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian wrote: "I am exposed continually to what I will call the 'McCandless Phenomenon.' People, nearly always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent ... When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn't even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. If he had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament ... Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide."

    The movie unfortunately does not communicate the ironic circumstances regarding McCandless' death, choosing instead to focus on the human tragedy. Which is fine, but I don't think the movie is doing Ranger Christian and his fellows any good deeds by romanticizing his end and in all probability luring other bullheaded twits into trying their hand at the antics of the likes of McCandless and his spiritual brother, Timothy Treadwell.

    I personally have a desire to test myself against nature, much like McCandless. I've always had it. But where he thought it was a grand idea to go get lost without a map and virtually no knowledge of the area whatsoever, I think education, preparation, and technology are probably immensely helpful. McCandless and Treadwell made one of the oldest and stupidest mistakes in the history of mankind: they failed to respect their adversary. And that's why we have Darwin Awards.

    Posted by Tom, 10/23/2007 6:53:21 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 19, 2007

    I'm glad somebody finally said it...'s kids are wimps. To wit:

    The wussification of American children is a relatively recent phenomenon, but a very real one. We pamper our kids, over-schedule them, overemphasize fairness in competition (the score ends in a tie ... again!) and keep them indoors too much, to the point that we're doing them a huge disservice. Kids aren't learning how to get hurt, lose, fend for themselves, find their balance and discover minor dangers on their own - all important parts of growing up.

    Rest of article here.

    Maybe if we can get rid of the overprotective parenting we will eventually be able to get rid of the overprotective governing. How's that for a dream?

    Posted by Tom, 10/19/2007 6:40:00 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Where the rubber meets the road

    In a nutshell: the people at This November 5th . com are trying to organize a mass donation spree to Ron Paul's campaign. As the recent article at Mises put it:

    I spoke to a gentleman from New Jersey -- Jason was his name -- more of my age and far more sober minded. We both agreed that Ron Paul's chances of becoming president are slim to none, forget what the Vegas odds makers say. Recognizing him as a Four Figure fellow, I asked him why then did he hand over so much money to Mr. Paul's campaign.

    He thought about it and gave me the answer to the same question I'd been asking of myself: "I'm buying hope," he shrugged.

    I'd like to know how much hope a hundred bucks can buy. And the oblique reference to V for Vendetta is just too poetic to resist.

    Much as we might wish for something more pure, politics runs on two things: money and participation. Ron Paul is gaining ground in both areas, but he'll always need more until the campaign is over. The primaries start in just a few short months, and the other Republican candidates have absolutely nothing to offer America. So this is where the rubber meets the road. It's one thing to say "I'd really like it if Ron Paul were elected." It's quite another to put your shoulder to the wheel and push. That's why I'm planning to donate to the campaign.

    Anybody else?

    Posted by Tom, 10/18/2007 5:40:14 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Happy Birthday Jim!

    It's my brother's birthday today. If you see him, wish him a happy birthday and thank him for the work he does with and for our veterans. For those who don't know, he's a psychiatrist and is currently treating soldiers returning from Iraq for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other problems.

    Hope you have a great birthday, buddy.

    Posted by Tom, 10/18/2007 6:45:17 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    "Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder; don't nobody wanna lift no big-ass weights."

    -- Ronnie Coleman, Mr. Olympia 1998-2006

    Posted by Tom, 10/18/2007 6:14:20 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    Quote of the Day

    The state is the most destructive institution human beings have ever devised -- a fire that, at best, can be controlled for only a short time before it o'erleaps its improvised confinements and spreads its flames far and wide.

    -- Robert Higgs, The Song That Is Irresistible

    Posted by Tom, 10/17/2007 6:11:43 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Birthday card from my parents

    A Son...
    Thinking about the boy he was makes you feel a little sentimental...
    Thinking about the man he's become makes you feel more than a little proud.

    Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye...

    Posted by Tom, 10/16/2007 6:51:44 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Slightly Mollified

    After my rant about the economists who won the Nobel Prize this year, Reason has provided a different view of their work. It appears they are not quite the pro-State cheerleaders the New York Times made them out to be:

    Mechanism design theorists at least take their challenge seriously, and thus try to design institutions that work under the same constraints as the market -- i.e. institutions that respect information and self-interest constraints. The results have been mixed. Typically the mechanisms that work in theory are very complicated -- far more complicated than the market or other mechanisms that we see used in practice.

    ...mechanism design can make government more effective, but it will do so by making government more "market-like." Contracting-out of government services like garbage pickup, prisons, and roads, for example, can be carried out even farther if contracts are more carefully designed. The theory of mechanism design provides the template for thinking about the best possible types of contracts.

    The most practical use of mechanism design to date illustrates my point. Mechanism design is the foundation for the sophisticated auctions that have been used to sell off broadcast spectrum. The moral here, however, is often misunderstood. The sophisticated auctions convinced governments that there was money in selling off spectrum, but the real gains came when spectrum, which was being wasted in government hands, was turned over to the private sector.

    I'm in favor of the auctioning off of public goods, and also in favor of making government more market-like. So on the basis of this article, I think it sounds like these guys are doing good work. On the basis of the New York Times article, with its talk of "fixing" markets, it sounds like these guys are the Devil's Manservants.

    It appears my earlier rant is more appropriately aimed at the NYT's hopes of what can come of their work, though the Reason article does not address the basic question of the (il)legitimacy of government, as one would hope it might. A "more effective" government is not necessarily a good thing, even if it does look more like a market.

    I will also note that the forum users over at have reacted pretty much the same as I did to the mainstream media's presentation of the work. It seems pretty clear that it's not just my reaction to the way it's being presented.

    It also seems to me that we are still dealing with economists whose primary purpose is to make government "better". A government that has more efficient contracts for garbage collection and the like is still a government that insists on monopolistic control of the garbage collection service and which effectively steals the fees and tax support to provide such services. Are we better off if the protection racket allows us to pay electronically rather than sending thugs around once a week to break our fingers? In one sense, yes, but in others, no.

    So I guess in the end, I'm slightly less angry about the work, because it relates to some things that I think are good moves, like selling off public goods, but I'm still suspicious about the motives and long-term results.

    Posted by Tom, 10/16/2007 6:35:21 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    People unfit for freedom - who cannot do much with it - are hungry for power. The desire for freedom is an attribute of a "have" type of self. It says: leave me alone and I shall grow, learn, and realize my capacities. The desire for power is basically an attribute of a "have not" type of self.
    -- Eric Hoffer

    This makes me think about how the mouthpieces of expanding government are always trying to remind us of how much we don't have... just look at the "universal health care" movement. They don't spend hardly any time basking in the realization that generally speaking, America is one of the healthiest societies on the planet, once you control for self-inflicted illness like obesity and such. We have mosquitoes, but other countries have malaria. But we never hear about things like this... all we hear is what we don't have -- health insurance.

    This is what I mean when I talk about "success-oriented" vs "failure-oriented" thinking. Government is entirely failure-oriented. People seeking power, either for themselves or for the government, are failure-oriented. They prefer to focus on what we don't have, because it's scary and spooks the herd. But what they don't seem to realize is that we tend shoot where we aim. If you aim at failure, you'll hit it every time.

    Posted by Tom, 10/16/2007 6:13:40 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    And the Nobel Prize in Economics goes to...

    ...a bunch of yahoos who begin with a flawed premise:

    The Nobel Prize in economics was awarded today to three Americans for their work in mechanism design theory, a branch of economics that looks at the design of institutions in situations where markets do not work properly.

    Markets not working properly? What does that even mean?

    Their work addresses situations in which markets work imperfectly...

    Wait, I thought you said "properly"... so the standard of "properly" is perfection? Does that mean markets have to act exactly according to some theoretical model? If so, whose model, and why that one instead of another?

    It turns out they have a few examples:

    ...such as when competition is not completely free...

    Competition is never free so long as government exists and regulates trade. If I'm in the market for a lawnmower and start shopping the yard sales, everyone who has one is in completely free competition with one another for my business. But when the local government demands that everyone who holds a yard sale get a permit first, some may not hold a yard sale due to the cost of the permit, and thus are frozen out of the competition.

    ...consumers are not fully informed...


    Consumers are NEVER fully informed. Perfect information is impossible even for the producers and distributors of any given product. Information is a discovery process, for all parties. Some parties may have more information than others, but nobody ever has all the information they want or need.

    I would like to know the exact date that my recently purchased car is going to give up the ghost, so I can plan for the purchase of its replacement. But this is not information that is readily available to anyone.

    ... or people hold back private information. In such cases - for example, when people refuse to divulge how much they are willing to pay for a good - trade can break down.

    Why on earth should people be willing to divulge their price? It's literally the only bit of leverage the consumer has in a negotiated sale. When I bought my house, I kept asking for lower than they offered. I cut them down to the absolute, bare-minimum, drop-dead price. The fact of the matter is, I was perfectly willing to pay the asking price for the property. But my insistence on hardball negotiating did absolutely nothing to break down the trade. They still got the money, I still got the house. But I paid considerably less than I was willing to pay. (Incidentally, this drives real estate agents crazy.)

    Further, everything I've ever been taught (both formally and by the "school of hard knocks") about how to get good deals rests upon this pivotal point: If you give up a number, it will be used against you. The proper answer is "as cheap as possible". There is nothing wrong with asking for a good deal. There's nothing wrong with walking away from a deal if the numbers aren't to your satisfaction. The only wrong here is that someone else appears to think that a trade "must" take place, when in fact it doesn't. Maybe the buyer has learned that he values his money more than the good or service being offered. There's nothing at all wrong with that.

    Personally, I have a hard time believing in the legitimacy of the Nobel Prize if this is the sort of crap they're awarding it to (not even going to get into the Al Gore debacle). Markets always function properly, because in any trade there are only two people who really have any business discussing the "propriety" of the trade -- if both of them are satisfied, the trade takes place and is proper. If one of them is not, the trade does not take place, and that is also proper.

    The real issue here is the expectations of the 3rd-party observer. What these guys are actually doing is work to manipulate markets to achieve the ends of those not involved in the trade. To wit:

    Their work also addresses cases where transactions do not take place openly in public markets, but within companies, in private bargaining between individuals or between interest groups.

    The prize winners' groundbreaking work has been pivotal in assessing how institutions perform under such conditions, and in designing the best mechanism to make sure that goals, such as optimal social welfare or maximum private profit, are reached, the academy said. The winners' work has helped determine whether government regulation may sometimes be necessary.

    And now we see the real reason their work is being lauded. And that turn of phrase would be really amusing if it weren't so tragic: "may sometimes be necessary"... as if government or its cheerleaders ever think regulation isn't necessary. It's like they're trying to sell us on the idea that government really just wants to leave us alone, and only intervenes with great reluctance and a heavy heart, to "fix" just those things that are desperately broken.


    Why should one endeavor to understand economics? Because Leviathan's gaping maw contains teeth made by those who pervert it.

    Posted by Tom, 10/15/2007 6:20:01 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Pimpin' ain't easy

    That's why you need the right equipment:

    When I left the old job, some of my coworkers said things like, "I could never work at home. Do you think you'll be able to handle that?"

    Somehow I think I'll manage.

    Posted by Tom, 10/14/2007 4:01:24 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, October 13, 2007

    Boot Camp Guards go free

    I previously blogged about an article describing the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson in a Florida "boot camp" for troubled teenagers. I see now that the persons responsible have been acquitted of any wrongdoing in his death. And so the system protects itself. At least the boot camps have been shut down in the wake of public outrage.

    Just as a refresher, here is what the people involved did, but were found to have done nothing wrong:

    A video recorded by the camp shows up to 10 of the sheriff's "drill instructors" punching, kicking, slamming to the ground, and dragging the limp body of the unresisting adolescent. Anderson had reported difficulty breathing while running the last of 16 required laps on a track, a complaint that was interpreted as defiance. When he stopped breathing entirely, this too was seen as a ruse.

    Ammonia was shoved in the boy's face; this tactic apparently had been used previously to shock other boys perceived as resistant into returning to exercises. The guards also applied what they called "pressure points" to Anderson's head with their hands, one of many "pain compliance" methods they had been instructed to impose on children who didn't immediately do as they were told.

    All the while, a nurse in a white uniform stood by, looking bored. At one point she examined the boy with a stethoscope, then allowed the beating to continue until he was unconscious. An autopsy report issued in May -- after an initial, disputed report erroneously attributed Anderson's death to a blood disorder -- concluded that he had died of suffocation, due to the combined effects of ammonia and the guards' covering his mouth and nose.

    Ho hum. Nothing to see here. Move along.

    Posted by Tom, 10/13/2007 10:16:29 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 9, 2007

    Hayne under fire

    Radley Balko's piece on Dr. Steven Hayne (previously mentioned here) has caught the attention of mainstream media in Jackson, Mississippi. Here's hoping this starts a wildfire of in-depth reviews and investigative reports in that and other states.

    Posted by Tom, 10/9/2007 6:33:43 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Ron Paul raises cash

    Apparently, Ron Paul has been raising more cash than anyone ever really thought he would. And that's a good thing.

    And here is how much money his campaign raised this summer, according to figures announced this week: $5.1m, more than double what it raised in the spring. There are rules for American presidential races and Paul's campaign has shattered most of them. White House candidates vacuum up their money early, from their most faithful donors, and they scramble to win new ones. The only candidates who see their numbers surge are incumbent presidents and frontrunners like New York senator Hillary Clinton, who sit back and chuckle (in Hillary's case, "cackle") as donors bid for a seat on their bandwagons.

    Part of me says he still doesn't have a chance in hell of winning the election. Part of me doesn't care, and will support him all the way to the final election. Don't give up on us, Ron, and we won't give up on you.

    Posted by Tom, 10/9/2007 5:17:57 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 8, 2007

    Is Zoe a Christian?

    This question just popped into my head as I was watching her eat.

    Evidence in favor: Every time I feed her, the first thing she does is scatter a mouthful of her food all over the floor, and then eat what's left in her bowl. Perhaps she's giving her "first fruits" to God?

    Evidence against: When she's done eating the food in her bowl, she notices that God apparently doesn't want His portion, so she eats it on His behalf. Not to mention the fact that her beautiful blue eyes reflect "devil dog red" when you use a flash:

    I guess the jury's still out on this one.

    Posted by Tom, 10/8/2007 6:55:08 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...


    WEST PALM BEACH - The homeless and hungry were grateful as usual Saturday at Centennial Square as they ate in the shade. As they have for months, they came for a meal on a day other organizations don't give out free food.

    Some didn't know about the controversy surrounding their macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and beans. The city passed an ordinance last month barring programs from feeding the homeless outside the public library on Clematis Street and at the Meyer Amphitheatre just behind it. Mayor Lois Frankel said the homeless disrupt downtown businesses and residents.

    The ordinance didn't stop Food Not Bombs, the organization that dishes out the food to roughly 30 men and women every Saturday.

    Rest of article here.

    It makes me wonder what my "law and order at any cost" Christian friends would think. Sadly, I'm not sure they do.

    "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?"
    -- Jesus, to the "law and order at any cost" folks of His day (Mark 3:4)

    Posted by Tom, 10/8/2007 6:47:54 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Crime in Mississippi

    The CSI-pattern shows have America in love with forensic medicine. On these shows, folks like Gil Grissom use a fanatical devotion to Truth and Science and Facts to catch bad guys and put them behind bars where they belong. I've heard from some in the legal profession that such shows are also creating problems in the courtroom, when juries become bogged down in analyzing the forensic details, even in cases where such details are not in dispute. Overall the shows are extremely popular, and the American public is gaining more and more confidence in our system of justice due to the confluence of such media and the advancing science in fields like DNA evidence.

    But what if the reality is that Truth and Science and Facts take a back seat to Graft and Corruption and the Good Ol' Boy Network? That certainly appears to be the case in Mississippi, as Reason has so thoroughly exposed in their latest investigative piece, CSI: Mississippi. It's an article that everyone in America ought to read, despite the fact that, as one reads it, the growing realization of just how deep the rot goes is incredibly hard on the stomach. It ought to be on the 6 o'clock news in every major city.

    In essence, for the last 20 years or so, the majority of the State of Mississippi's forensic evidence has been processed and testified to by one man: Steven Hayne, whose work is as demonstrably shoddy as it is egregiously voluminous. Recently, the state Supreme Court saw fit to toss out his testimony altogether, because he made claims that literally strain at the limits of common sense:

    Testifying that you can tell from an autopsy how many hands were on the gun that fired a bullet is like saying you can tell the color of a killer's eyes from a series of stab wounds. It's absurd. The Mississippi Supreme Court said Hayne's testimony was "scientifically unfounded" and should not have been admitted. Based on this and other errors, it ordered a new trial for Edmonds.

    But it wasn't the doctor's dubious claim that made the case unusual. It's the fact that the court explicitly renounced his testimony. It was the first time that had happened to Hayne in hundreds of cases dating back nearly 20 years.

    By any sane standard, the decision was long overdue. Hayne's career in court is an egregious example of what happens when the criminal justice system fails to adequately oversee expert testimony. He may be unusually careless, but he is not unique -- not in Mississippi, and not in the United States.

    The article goes on to summarize the stories of some of the other corrupt, inept, or lazy "expert witnesses" who've been found out recently, before returning its attention to Steven Hayne's corruption of the justice system. Like anyone with an inside track on a golden egg-laying goose, Hayne is quick to protect his turf:

    Hayne, 67, has a reputation for threatening to sue his detractors, which makes many of them reluctant to speak on the record. When reformers tried to make Mississippi abide by the professional standards of forensic pathology, Hayne and his allies sabotaged their efforts and, in some cases, effectively drove them out of the state. Hayne himself did not respond to multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.

    The rest of the article goes on to document some of the more horrendous examples of Hayne's work, the fact that he's not board-certified in forensic pathology, and the odd set of legal circumstances and incentives (for him, the legislature, the prosecutors, and so forth) that virtually guarantee he will be doing this crap for a long time to come. The article can't even begin to fathom the number of people who must have been unjustly imprisoned or even put to death based on Hayne's testimony, but based on his shenanigans, it's probably a whole lot more than the "law and order" types would like to admit.

    Horrifying as Hayne's career is to the sane person who wants to trust the system, he's not alone. And that's the truly frightening part... how many others have not been discovered or exposed, and are giving corrupted testimony in courthouses across the country? I do believe that the "crime lab" business needs to be opened to competition, and that defendants should have some sort of compulsory representation on their side if it'll help. What that would look like, I don't really know and haven't spent much time pondering. But what the system looks like right now is pretty ugly and needs to be changed so that justice can truly be served.

    Posted by Tom, 10/8/2007 6:34:17 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Shakeout in Real Estate

    Builders all across the nation have begun slashing prices on new construction, in a desperate effort to clear out inventory. This of course desperately needed to happen, but homeowners who have been doing the buy & sell routine, and amateurs who've gotten the "flipping" bug, are going to take a huge blow.

    I don't know who ever started the ridiculous rumor that real estate was a foolproof investment that would always go up, but now we're seeing that it absolutely is not true. It should have been obvious to anyone watching all the cookie-cutter developments going up, where every house looks like every other house, and when you buy the property, it's not yours to use as you see fit because you have to sign some stupid neighborhood agreement about what color your garage door can be painted (among other things). It's my opinion that as people wake up to the loss of their property rights, they start being less willing to buy property where they have no rights.

    More to the point, people need to realize that buying a home, like any other purchase, is about buying something that you can live with for a while at the price you're paying. If you can't live with it, don't buy it. It really is that simple. That's why I don't understand these people on the home improvement shows that buy a house to "flip", but can't even afford the mortgage payment that they bought it with. It's like putting a gun to your own head and pulling the trigger, hoping it'll misfire.

    I'm a homeowner. Well, I'm a home-liver. The bank owns the home for the time being. I'm a little curious as to what my house will bring in this new market, given that it's been estimated at $20k over the price I paid. But my life doesn't depend on the price I can get for my home, because I can also just live here and not worry about it. We bought the house for a reasonable price, with a reasonable payment, and we should have no problem paying out the mortgage for the foreseeable future, Lord willin' and the creek don't rise. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like common sense: only buy what you can really afford.

    My worst fear in all this is that some idiot in Congress will get it in his head that we need to "save the American homeowner" from the "predatory pricing practices" of the building industry, and stop this much-needed shakeout from happening. Let prices fall. Have some fun with it. Houses are going on sale, blue-light special, all across the country. We don't bemoan the situation when toilet paper goes on sale, and we shouldn't bemoan it when houses do.

    Posted by Tom, 10/8/2007 6:21:29 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Mass shootings prove...

    ...that only our brave, responsible, highly trained police officers and other government agents should have guns.

    Or not.

    CRANDON, Wis. -- Residents of this small northern Wisconsin town looked for answers Monday as to why an off-duty sheriff's deputy shot and killed at least six young people Sunday before being gunned down.

    Proper gun handling and basic morality is not monopolized by people in uniform. Authority does not deserve automatic obeisance merely because it is authority. A man with a badge can no more be assumed to be a "good guy" simply by virtue of his having a badge, than a man without.

    Once again, for the people in the cheap seats -- especially those politically active Christians on the left and right who justify authority on a misreading of the Bible and who still don't "get it": government is not an agent of sanctification!

    If I could get some significant number of people to understand that before I die, I will have lived a good life.

    Posted by Tom, 10/8/2007 7:30:26 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, October 6, 2007

    World of WarCraft/Toyota Tacoma ad


    Posted by Tom, 10/6/2007 7:03:35 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    The Brave One

    I just got back from seeing this latest Jodie Foster flick, and thought I'd weigh in on the controversies surrounding the film.

    The first controversy is in the gun community over what Foster said in an interview that certainly sounded like an endorsement of gun control. Meh. Actors say a lot of stupid things, and while I personally believe that Foster was trying to say something a bit more subtle than the way she communicated it, it really doesn't matter. I personally think it's a case of the gun community getting overwrought over not much of substance.

    The second controversy has to do with the movie itself, and the gun community would do well to ponder it. The issue is this: Hollywood has taken what could have been a good message movie and deliberately blurred the lines between self-defense and murder. The film attempts to equate righteous and unrighteous shootings in a way that turns my stomach.

    In one particularly egregious example, Erica Bain (Foster) is threatened, presumably with rape, at knifepoint on a subway. She kills the attacker and his accomplice. It is as clear-cut a case of righteous self-defense as anyone is likely to find. There are two male assailants, both hulking over the diminutive Foster, they have already displayed a propensity for violence toward the other passengers on the train, and she is clearly in a world of hurt if she doesn't find a way to extricate herself from the situation. She's armed, so she takes action. In just about any state except New York and California, this is textbook self-defense.

    Instead, the movie plays it up as vigilanteism. The viewer is asked to uncritically accept that Bain has already "crossed the line" into being a murderer (the cynical part of me says that the tipping point is because it's a white woman killing two black "kids", which of course is the same as lynching them). Unfortunately, this is probably a successful ploy with most of the viewing audience. It only pissed me off.

    Before those bodies are cold, Bain gets herself into another situation, one that possibly should have been avoided, but she acts on behalf of another woman who is clearly wiped out on something. This one's a bit hard to swallow, as Bain basically went looking for trouble, but her actions were all legally defensible, in my opinion. But of course, according to the narrative, the "vigilante" strikes again.

    The movie really begins to stretch its credibility when she goes after some guy she doesn't even know, on the word of a cop who she doesn't know that well. In the confrontation (which, granted, she should not have instigated), her actions are again fairly righteous -- she's attacked, and she defends herself, if rather... enthusiastically.

    It's not until the end of the movie that we see anything that's really indefensible, when she actually hunts down the guys who attacked her in the beginning of the movie. But by this time, we've been hammered so many times with the "vigilante" message that we almost feel obliged to hope for her to turn herself in, even though to this point she really hasn't done anything all that wrong. Take out that last sequence, set the movie in Oklahoma City or Dallas instead of New York, and there would be no vigilante -- just an honest citizen taking out the trash.

    Overall, I'd call this movie a 3 out of 10 for the overbearing, big-city liberal Hollywood BS messages blasting throughout it. It's still worth seeing, but if you're a member of the "gun culture", be prepared to be offended. Structurally, I love that the various sequences were well thought-out and easy to understand and dissect, I just wish the movie came to more correct conclusions about each one.

    The movie also made me wish for a documentary or re-enactment movie about some of the cases described in Robert A. Waters' excellent books (Guns Save Lives, Outgunned, The Best Defense), which are filled with painstakingly researched examples of righteous shootings by law-abiding citizens just trying to mind their own business. It would be really nice to see a movie that tried to help the public at large understand what is and is not a righteous shooting, rather than simply trying to equate all shootings with murderous execution just because one of those evil guns was involved.

    I know, I know... not holding my breath.

    Posted by Tom, 10/6/2007 3:58:32 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    Sound Money

    The Mises Institute has a nice article today, written in 1948, about the history of the change from sound money to fiat money. It describes in simple, easy to understand terms exactly why fiat money is bad, how it contributes to and exacerbates the business cycle, and makes clear the fact that returning to sound money would not be a painless process. However, the article also makes it clear why it is necessary, especially in terms of basic economic freedom.

    Money quote (pardon the pun):

    Meanwhile, the time comes when the government itself is helpless, even if it should want to stop inflation. The theory of planned money is that the pendulum can be put back when necessary. This is the doctrine of controlled inflation. But when the time comes to act, the government faces not a theory but a political reality. It does not dare to deflate the economy by restoring the pain function of money. Was it not for that the banker was damned? Now shall the government do it in his stead? If so, what becomes of the delusion that once the government controls and plans the money people will be delivered forever from that experience?

    It should be noted that our current chairman of the Federal Reserve is a devotee of the "doctrine of controlled inflation". God help us all.

    I really need to get serious about getting that book What Has Government Done to Our Money?, though I think the answer is pretty well laid out in the above article.

    Posted by Tom, 10/4/2007 6:27:27 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Injustice System

    Reason has yet another article on overzealous prosecution of doctors prescribing opioid pain medication. I don't know whether to laugh or cry:

    After three trials (two mistrials), one appeal, and having served more than three years of a mandatory 25 year sentence, pain patient Richard Paey was given a full pardon by Florida Governor Charlie Crist on Sept. 20. Paey had been convicted of "drug trafficking" due to the high doses of opioids he'd been prescribed for pain resulting from multiple sclerosis and failed back surgery in the aftermath of a car accident.


    While Paey was in prison, officials refilled a morphine pump that he had fitted during the course of the proceedings. That pump, paid for by the state of Florida, delivered over the course of each 48 hour period a larger dose of opioid medication than Paey had been convicted of possessing in the first place.

    The more I read these things, the more I hate the War on Drugs and all its devotees. At least the guy was finally pardoned after having his life completely wrecked and losing 3 years he'll never get back. I wonder how many real crimes could have been solved with the money that was used to pursue this worthless case against a doctor trying to help a patient deal with his pain. Thanks for nothing, drug warriors. I wonder if there's a special place in Hell for sanctimonious buttmunches like you.

    Better still, Reason's print edition this month has an absolutely bone-chilling article about forensic medicine in Mississippi. As soon as it goes online, I'll be linking and talking about it. If it doesn't make you completely lose faith in the system, I don't know what will.

    Posted by Tom, 10/4/2007 7:43:25 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saving Grace

    This new show on TNT has my wife fascinated. It held my interest for a couple of episodes, but I quickly lost interest.

    Highs: A tobacco chewin' angel named Earl (points for originality), and the theme song by Everlast (though I hate the addition of lines from the show in the linked video).

    Lows: Just about everything else. Holly Hunter plays up the white trash Oklahoman stereotype for all she's worth. They make her out to be "hot", but she's really kinda skanky.

    And the angel theme... ugh.

    Let's see... where have we seen the "intervening angels" before? Highway to Heaven. Touched by an Angel. A frickin' vampire named Angel. So many movies about intervening angels, angels trying to earn their wings, and fallen angels that I can't even count, but here's a sampling: Angels in the Outfield, Dogma, Almost an Angel, and the list goes on.

    To make matters worse, one of the characters in the show, Grace's best friend, is apparently an angel aficionado. Reader and fellow blogger Tom the Impaler hates ninja themes, but I'm really sick of angels.

    And it's not even entertaining angel stuff, like I imagine Frank Peretti's stuff would be (objections to his theology aside). It's just the same boring old deus ex machina that should be the first sign to the network that they should cancel the show and give Joss Whedon a boatload of cash to bring back Firefly.

    Posted by Tom, 10/4/2007 5:19:20 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Behind the counter coming?

    According to this article, the FDA may be looking to allow some drugs to be sold with a pharmacist's approval instead of a doctor's prescription. This would be a very good move, in my opinion. Pharmacists have long been frozen out of the consulting process, despite the fact that they are generally more knowledgeable about the drugs they sell than the doctors that prescribe them. It is, after all, their core business.

    Unfortunately, if the article is any indication, this relaxation of the rules will be limited to the ridiculously uncomplicated (some would say unnecessary) drugs like cholesterol medication. Personally, I'm hoping that it'll work for things like the drugs I take for allergies and hypothyroidism. The costs should come down as a result of this move, and that's good for everyone.

    Posted by Tom, 10/4/2007 3:27:16 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007


    Today I finished my first (extremely minor) project at the new job. New "programming" language, new operating environment, new ways of thinking about things, but it looks like I'm on my way.

    Posted by Tom, 10/2/2007 6:17:53 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...